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Updated Apr 21, 2017 07:53pm


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Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

On March 3, 2016, a man named Kulbhushan Jhadev was arrested by Pakistan’s security forces when he was allegedly entering the country’s Balochistan province from Iran. On March 30, 2016, ISPR released a video in which Jhadev admitted that he had been involved in fomenting unrest and terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi.

According to his video confession, he was an officer in the Indian Navy and was employed by RAW, India’s spy agency.

On April 10 this year, a field military court in Pakistan sentenced Jhadev to death for espionage and sabotage. Though this case has received widespread media coverage, Jhadev is actually the 14th Indian spy arrested and sentenced by Pakistan in the last 46 years.

Many of these cases are now well-known. The most intriguing one, however, was the case of two Indians who [albeit briefly] were actually hailed as heroes by some sections in Pakistan!

Kulbushan Jhadev is not the first to be caught in a secretive game of chess

In January 1971, two young men from Kashmir hijacked an Indian Airlines plane from Srinagar and ordered the pilot to land it at the Lahore Airport in Pakistan. The hijackers were Hashim Qureshi and his relative, Ashraf Qureshi. Both claimed to belong to the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

The plane was allowed to land in Lahore. Just as the newspapers were reporting the incident, the two hijackers began being hailed as heroes by a large section of Pakistanis. One reason for this was because Z.A. Bhutto, the main opposition leader at the time, arrived on a flight which landed in Lahore the same day as the the hijacked plane.

Veteran journalist and columnist, the late Khalid Hassan, wrote in April 2003 [in The Friday Times] that when Bhutto was greeted by a boisterous crowd of supporters at the main gate of the Lahore Airport, his supporters insisted that he meet the hijackers and hail their act. Hassan (who was travelling with Bhutto at the time) added that Bhutto was carried on the shoulders of some of his supporters towards the hijacked plane. He shook their hands, exchanged a few pleasantries but then beat a hasty retreat.

At the time Pakistan was under a martial law regime headed by General Yahya Khan. The country’s eastern wing, East Pakistan, was on the brink of a civil war. Hassan wrote that Bhutto was not sure what the stand of the Pakistani government was in regard to the hijacking. He complained that he was ‘forced to meet the hijackers by some of his overly enthusiastic supporters.’

After negotiations, the Pakistan authorities convinced the hijackers to release the passengers of the plane who were put on another plane leaving for Delhi. The hijacked aircraft was then blown up. Newspapers reported that the empty plane was rigged with dynamite by the hijackers. But Hassan, in another article, quoted a former Pakistan intelligence officer, Aftab Ahmad, saying that it was he who gave the order to set fire to the plane. The task was performed by the hijackers who were provided kerosene oil.

"In January 1971, two young men from Kashmir hijacked an Indian Airlines plane from Srinagar and ordered the pilot to land it at the Lahore Airport in Pakistan. The hijackers were Hashim Qureshi and his relative, Ashraf Qureshi. Both claimed to belong to the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The plane was allowed to land in Lahore. Just as the newspapers were reporting the incident, the two hijackers began being hailed as heroes by a large section of Pakistanis.

Why would the officer do that? Hassan did not ask. Hassan only informed us that even though, right at the start of the hijacking, the two Qureshis were being hailed as freedom fighters by some quarters in Pakistan, the Yahya government had remained largely silent. The two hijackers were taken into custody and were met by an important JKLF leader who was based in Pakistan.

A. H. Talib wrote a detailed account of the hijacking in 2014 for the Greater Kashmir webzine. Talib wrote that eventually not only were the two hijackers thrown in jail, the JKLF leader too was arrested. This suggests that the Yahya regime was suspicious about the hijackers’ motives.

With the eruption of the December 1971 civil war in East Pakistan and then the assumption of power by Bhutto’s PPP, the hijacking story vanished from the newspapers, even though in India it had been flaunted as ‘proof of Pakistan’s direct involvement in Kashmir.’

Talib wrote that the JKLF leader and one of the hijackers, Ashraf Qureshi, were released by the in-coming Bhutto regime, whereas the second hijacker, Hashim Qureshi, was released nine years later in 1980 during the Gen Zia dictatorship. Hashim left for Holland, but Ashraf stayed behind. He became an academician after graduating from Punjab University. He passed away in Muzzafarabad in 2012.

In a February 14, 2001 interview, Hashim Qureshi [who returned to India from Holland in 2001] said that during their trial [in 1973] the Pakistan government had accused Ashraf and him of working for RAW. In the same interview Hashim stated that Ashraf and he were trapped into committing the hijacking by Pakistani agencies.

However, Hashim’s verdict might perhaps have been different had he not returned to India. Thirteen years after Hashim claimed that Pakistan was behind the hijacking, a former senior sleuth of RAW, R.K. Yadev, wrote the following in his 2014 book, Mission R&AW: “RAW persuaded Hashim Qureshi to work for them. After the plan was given final shape, Hashim Qureshi along with another operative Ashraf Qureshi was allowed to hijack an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore. RAW allowed him to carry a grenade and a toy pistol inside the plane. Pakistani authorities at Lahore airport allowed the plane to land when they were informed that it had been hijacked by Kashmiri activists. All India Radio soon broadcast this hijacking and the whole world was informed that Pakistan was behind it. The incident overtly gave India the right opportunity to cancel the flights of Pakistan over its territory, which hampered the plans of Yahya Khan to send troops by air to East Pakistan.”

Yahya was right to suspect the two men. Khalid Hassan in his piece concluded that the hijackers became victims of a larger game being played by India and Pakistan. A game the young hijackers did not fully understand. That’s why Ashraf was able to live in Pakistan, and Hashim returned to India.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 16th, 2017


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Comments (27) Closed

Zulu Apr 16, 2017 10:59am

Amazing....a game of chess

Shahzad Ikhlaq Apr 16, 2017 11:04am

An interesting piece from NFP as always!

Iqbal Apr 16, 2017 11:12am

Well neither India nor Pakistan are naïve in this game of hide and seek.

Nizam Apr 16, 2017 11:20am

First time in the history, a spy is captured using valid passport.. Haha..

TQ Apr 16, 2017 11:26am

Very informative.

Thank you Nadeem.

Ashraf U.P. Apr 16, 2017 11:54am

Case of false allegations to fulfill political agenda.

sania mirza Apr 16, 2017 12:22pm


Dilawar Apr 16, 2017 01:10pm


SYED H Apr 16, 2017 02:33pm

Great write up, as ever.

The Air Ganga incident (Ganga being the name of the Fokker aircraft in question) was actually well known for several years. It really did not have to wait for that 2014 admission by R.K. Yadev for it to be already public knowledge for decades that this act of terrorism (which is what it was) had been deliberately orchestrated by India, as part of a larger plan already put in motion in early 1971 with regard to what was then East Pakistan. This hijacking served to justify ending the critical air link directly over India between the two halves of Pakistan as they then stood, forcing any air support to take the much longer circuitous route going to Sri Lanka, and then to what is now Bangladesh. This was to prove crucial over the next 9 months, as India ratcheted up its actions during this period in what was then East Pakistan, eventually leading to the outbreak of the 1971 war.

mohammad modi Apr 16, 2017 02:55pm

A good article providing clear picture and analysis.

Adnan jidaker Apr 16, 2017 03:31pm

Brilliant like always

NAGARAJA B N Apr 16, 2017 03:58pm

At the end individuals suffer a lot in such games.

YOUKNOWIMRIGHT Apr 16, 2017 04:04pm

Nothing new in all this for those who have followed the machinations in Indo-Pak relations since independence, yet a timely reminder that invariably all is not how it seems .... !

Mango man Apr 16, 2017 04:40pm

@Nizam Nobody wants to look at the obvious flaws in the storyline being propagated. They are just lapping up what the politicians are feeding them.

aga Khan Apr 16, 2017 06:13pm

Human Nature - I suppose- conspiracy theories are always fascinating and fun to read.

Just someone Apr 17, 2017 12:33am

@Nizam : a valid passport with a fake name.

Shadi Katyal Apr 17, 2017 02:08am

we should not be surprised if we find out that how much cooperation d collision has been going on in many such reports. How nations try to conceal and lie in such cases. Spying is a kind of quite a war without any outside firing but war it is . Thanks for disclosing such undercover activities

meet KOtak Apr 17, 2017 05:29am

Wow! A wonderful article mate. Pleasure to see thriving and vigilant journalism on the other side. Yes, I hail from India. I completely agree with you, that these spies are nothing but pieces of pawn on the global chess board. Only one thing, It's Kulbhushan Yadav ( often pronounce as Jadhav here).

Prasad Joshi Apr 17, 2017 07:16am

Interesting. Problem with espionage,spying is, every country does it but no country admits it openly.As a result arrest of spy always gets trapped in the legal issues involving more than one country.Disowning the spy and spy languishing in jail for life term becomes a miserable for spy and his immediate family. Countries then start "You punish ours, w'll punish yours or you release ours, w'll release yours' unending childish game.

Dr Iqbal Apr 17, 2017 07:17am

No wonder pakistani military man disappeared in nepal

Harinder Apr 17, 2017 08:21am

When hijackers boarded plane at Sri Nagar they were seen off at airport by RAW officers including one Mathur. The operation chief of spy agency in Kashmir

secularist Apr 17, 2017 08:30am

@SYED H You are absolutely correct. It was public knowledge in India, as early as in 1973, that RAW engineered the hijacking to bar Pakistan from using its air space to send military reinforcements. Even, Sri Lanka did not permit refueling stops for the fear of alienating India. A tempestuous Bhutto fell for it. The hijackers were also suspected to have been a part of Border Security Force.

Vrpatil Apr 17, 2017 09:16am

It seems Kashmir freedom struggle could have remained a genuine, legitimate struggle if it didn't hijacked by inhuman acts (so called heroic actions)of hardliners (both internal and across the border) for the sake of fulfilling their egos.

Pakistani Apr 17, 2017 10:11am

Bravo NFP. Another masterpiece proving BHUTTOs' involvement and endeavors to destroy Pakistan, it could be either he was mocked being a part of chess game or it could be deliberate as well.

Ashraf Apr 17, 2017 10:57am

We must return the favour in kind

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Apr 17, 2017 03:13pm

NFP once again at top. This article encapsulates a long trail of RAW spies & their covert & overt espionage activities in the "land of the pure" to harm its integrity, solidarity & independence, in-line with New Delhi's"movers & shakers,"policies, the hallmark of which since day one is to destroy & disintegrate the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The sentencing on April 10, 2017 of the 14th Indian spy caught red-handed on the Pakistani soil to death by a military court & who openly admitted to his clandestine activities regarding fomenting unrest and terrorism in Balochistan & the largest city; Karachi highlights the case which got widespread media coverage on both sides of border.

NFP also discusses an intriguing 46 years old case of RAW Kashmiris agents who falsely hijacked an Indian airlines flight to Lahore.It was actually a RAW plot to terminate all Islamabad's aviation activities over Indian airspace to reinforce the sinister Indian designs in order to disintegrate East Pakistan.

Syed H Apr 17, 2017 03:44pm

@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad, Indeed, I second what you have said. India’s use of terrorist actions such as this hijacking to pursue its agenda over a period of decades against Pakistan reeks of hypocrisy, given its sanctimonious lectures to the world about Pakistan and terrorism.